Tag Archives: Tattoo

The Mystery of Real Strength

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

I have a tat on my left bicep. It is a reference to King David’s song of repentance, written after he’d been caught committing adultery, conspiracy, and murder (along with a host of other mistakes). The reference is on my the left arm because throughout the ages the left has metaphorically been used in reference to foolishness, oddity, and wrong doing (Wendy and I are both left-handed, btw). It has an illuminated “P” inspired by the Book of Kells in honor of the monks of Ireland who kept God’s Word alive on the edges of the known world while the institutional church and ecclesiastical powers in Rome and France led the western world into the dark ages. It is on my bicep to remind me of exactly what the ancient prophet Isaiah called out in today’s chapter:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength

For a good, long time on my life journey I followed the path I find most of the world follows. I hid my shortcomings beneath a well crafted public veneer of purity and self-righteousness. Like a successful political candidate I obfuscated, excused, ignored, and covered up. I refused to acknowledge my selfish motives, wanton appetites, and foolish choices. Like David, I woke up one day to find myself at a place on life’s road I swore I would never be. I had wandered so far.

My experience taught me hard and painful lessons in humility. Trouble is a powerful tutor, and I quietly began to understand what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

The mystery of the spiritual paradox began to lay hold of me. In repentance is strength. Spiritual power is birthed through grace amidst the shattered pieces of my life and the tragic evidence of my own frail humanity. I struck out in a new direction, understanding that repentance, not self-righteousness, was the way of strength.

I put a tat on my left bicep to remind me, every day for the rest of my journey, what I have learned, and what I am continually learning.

Last night on the way home from rehearsal I was scanning through the music on my iPhone and stumbled upon an unlikely song I didn’t really know I had. It’s essentially a negro spiritual sung by the old Irish rocker Tom Jones. Talk about a paradox. I listened to it multiple times on the way home. Seems now like a bit of synchronicity in light of my thoughts this morning. I may find myself in a place of trouble, but God uses that trouble “for to make me human, to make me whole.”

Here are the words:

When I close my eyes, so I would not see,
My Lord did trouble me.
When I let things stand that should not be,
My Lord did trouble me. 

Did trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With a ring of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

When I slept too long and I slept too deep,
Put a worrisome vision into my sleep.
When I held myself away and apart,
And the tears of my brother didn’t move my heart. 

Did trouble me,
With a word and a sign,
With a ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

And of this I’m sure, of this I know:
My Lord will trouble me.
Whatever I do, wherever I go,
My Lord will trouble me. 

In the whisper of the wind, in the rhythm of a song
My Lord will trouble me.
To keep me on the path where I belong,
My Lord will trouble me. 

Will trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With the ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Will trouble me,
Will stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

To make me human, to make me whole.

When the Walls Come a Tumblin’ Down

[The travelers from Judah] replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NRSV)

In ancient days, a nations walls were everything. Every major city (which subsequently controlled the nearby lands) was surrounded by walls. Walls were your security, making it impossible for enemies to easily invade. Walls were your pride. Their height, width, and engineering told the world how prosperous, industrious, and educated you were. Your gates were your calling card. Being the weakest point of defense, your gate said everything about you. The more secure, enamored, and embellished the gate, the more your city state would be held in high esteem.

The book of Nehemiah is about the walls and the gate of the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed (along with Solomon’s temple) by the Babylonian empire in 587 B.C. Most of the nations best and brightest were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Ezra, Nehemiah and their families were among them. As the scene is established in the opening sequence of today’s chapter, Nehemiah runs into some travelers who had arrived in Babylon from back home. He inquires about the state of their homeland and capitol city, and learns that the walls and gates had been utterly destroyed. The remnant back home feel utter shame.

If you have no walls, you are nothing.

Nehemiah’s reaction to the news was telling. He is grief stricken. He weeps. He fasts. He prays and confesses to God his sins, the sins of his family, and the sins of his nation.

We don’t have literal walls surrounding our homes and capitols [Unless you live in a gated community…there’s a good conversation to be explored there. Trump’s promised border wall is another interesting parallel conversation, but I digress] Walls as a line of defense became obsolete hundreds of years ago. The word picture, however, still carries weight for me in my personal life. I still build walls, metaphorically, around my heart and life. I build walls of protection against forces spiritual, emotional, relational, and cultural. I erect walls of possessions and words revealing to others what I want them to see, while hiding safely that which I desire to hide. I engineer relational walls that warn people off, walls that keep people out, and gates of relationship that open and close at my will.

And, my walls can crumble and fall just like Jerusalem’s.

On my left bicep I have a tat that references Psalm 51. It is an ancient song of confession, the lyrics written by King David at a moment when the walls of Jerusalem stood tall and proud, but the walls of his personal life had come crashing to the ground. The gates to his soul lay in utter ruin. It is on my left bicep because the ancients identified left, and left-handedness (I’m a lefty, btw), with foolishness, iniquity, and sin. It is on my bicep because it is a reminder to me that my strength is not in the quality of the walls I build around myself, but in humility and the utter honesty of my confession.

Nehemiah is having a Psalm 51 moment. I have had my own (multiple times). Walls crash and burn. Life sometimes lays in ruin before us. I have learned along the journey that in those moments when life crumbles around me the key to finding seeds of redemption and restoration lie not in the strength of my biceps, but in the condition of my spirit. Nehemiah gets it, too.

The Latest 10-04-15

Summer has turned to autumn. The mornings are crisp and cool. The late summer sun is strong, but tempered with the cool fall breeze. The trees are changing color and looking increasingly bare. Here in the Iowa heartland the combines are out and the landscape changes daily as fields full of tall corn are laid bare with the harvest.

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A few weeks ago we returned from our fall weekend at the lake with Kevin and Becky. While we were in Missouri there had been a big rain back here at home. And, I had been watering our fledgling lawn religiously. Early that week I was sitting in Vander Well Pub with Taylor talking about her day when I looked into the basement family room and noticed that a big pillow sitting on the floor was discolored. It was then that I discovered our sump pump had not been working and our storage room and family room were flooded. When our contractor came over to inspect the issue, he found that at some point the sump pump plug was not flush in the outlet. All he did was push it in and the sump started to work. It was not a good evening.

We had a lot of damaged photos, artwork and other belongings that were still boxed in the storage room from the move. Fortunately, our friend Brad responded to my text and brought over huge fans and a special machine for sucking up water out of the carpet/pad. I was up until the wee hours trying to dry things out. Ugh.

The Latest 10 04 2015 - 1The Latest 10 04 2015 - 4Wendy has been planning a new tat for a long time now, and had vowed to put it off until after the summer (You’re supposed to keep new tattoos out of the sunlight). She finally pulled the trigger and had a gorgeous phoenix inked onto her upper left arm. It’s a gorgeous tat. The phoenix, a symbol of rebirth and glory from ashes, has long held special significance for Wendy. I’m happy that she finally got it done.

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Last weekend was Pella’s Marching Band Festival. Des Moines Christian was marching, so Jody and my folks drove down for it. Wendy and I met them at the field to watch the band, then came back to the house for a quick bite. It was great to have them here and to see both Emma and Harry Roose marching.

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This past week Taylor received word that her Master’s dissertation had been accepted by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. We uncorked a nice bottle of wine, made a special dinner of grilled salmon, and toasted her acheivement!

Yesterday we were in Ames. My dear friend, Megan, asked me to be honorary dad at ISU Dad’s Weekend. Her mom picked Wendy and me up early in the morning and we drove up to the campus. Megan has pledged to a sorority, so after picking her up at her dorm we went to the house for tailgating and games. We then walked to Jack Trice stadium and sat in the student section to watch the Cyclones beat Kansas. It was a cloudless day and one half of my face got nicely burned! It was great to see Megan and, as always, it was a privilege to be honorary dad.

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Wendy and I have spent the past couple of weeks finalizing our transition out of leadership with Union Street Players. There have been files to transfer, final reports to prepare, meetings with the new Board. Last night was the 2015 USP Award’s Night which was essentially our final major responsibility. Wendy planned the event and made several cheesecakes. I put together the year-in-review video and emcee’d the event. Suzanna came back from school to attend. Our friend Heather MacClennan came down from Des Moines with her trio to provide entertainment. Good time had by all (despite some maddening technical difficulties that just about fubar’d the entire evening for me).

“Realize that You’re Already Dead”

lamb tatThey triumphed over [the dragon]
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12:11 (NIV)

Over the past several years the television miniseries Band of Brothers has become one of my all time favorites. This morning while reading I was reminded of a character in Band of Brothers, Captain Ronald Speirs, played by Matthew Settle. Captain Speirs becomes notorious for risking his own life and taking outrageous chances in battle. In one of my favorite scenes, there is a night that Speirs finds himself talking to a young soldier who, unlike Speirs, admits to fearfully hiding in a ditch to avoid battle. “The only hope you have,” Speirs tells the young soldier, “is to realize that you’re already dead.”

Along the journey I’ve come to recognize that there are many truths of the Spirit realm that run counter to the physical realm. Captain Speirs actually made a profound statement that points to a spiritual truth. When we consider ourselves truly dead to our own self-centered motivations, desires, words, and actions we find ourselves free to experience a fullness of Life and a courage to move forward that would not otherwise be possible nor seem reasonable. Jesus said that there was no greater love than when someone lays down their life for others. I’ve come to realize that “laying down your life” sometimes means making the ultimate sacrifice like a soldier in batter, but it also means a day-by-day choice to lay down self-centric motivations for the service of others.

In today’s chapter, the loud, heavenly voice proclaims that the ultimate triumph of good over evil was made possible, not by might or power, but by sacrifice: the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) who laid down His life for all, and those followers who did not cling to their lives or shrink from death.

Coincidentally, I have the verse above tattooed on my left shoulder. It serves as a daily reminder to me to, moment-by-moment, live in such a way that I sacrifice myself so that I might be able to pour a greater share of love and life into others. Some days I do better than others, but I’m still pressing on.

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Some Things Earned; Some Things Given

btw, Rev 5:5 is tatted on my right shoulder!
Personal Trivia:I have a Rev 5:5 tat!

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Revelation 5:5 (NIV)

Part of my business is the assessment of the quality of service that individual customer service agents provide over the phone to their company’s customers (e.g. “your call may be monitored to ensure quality service”). In the 25 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve come to find that there are some very strong opinions  and philosophies about the standards by which people should be measured.

My company has always advocated a high standard of performance because we believe that the ultimate test is a customer’s satisfaction. In my experience, most companies say that they deliver a high level of service, but when you survey their customers you find that relatively few customers agree. In order to differentiate yourself in the mind of the customer your service has got to be really good. So, we set the bar high and encourage Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) to work hard at delivering a consistently above average level of service. When CSRs reach their goal they generally feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.

In other words: Many olympians compete in a race, but only one earns the gold medal.

There are a lot of people who don’t like this approach. I’m constantly running into those who are advocates of setting the bar low enough for the vast majority to reach it with little effort. In this approach, it is believed that every CSR should get a perfect score on almost every call even if we have to water down the standards or obfuscate the measuring approach to make it attainable. Exceptionally good service is not what this measurement approach strives for, but simply avoiding exceptionally bad service. I find it to be the celebration “good enough.” Admittedly, CSRs do like this approach as they are largely rewarded for maintaining the status quo.

In other words: Pretty much everyone who shows up for the race should get a gold medal.

I have come to realize that these conflicting approaches have spiritual implications. Speaking of “only one gets the prize,” I found it interesting in the chapter this morning that only One was worthy of opening the scroll and the seven seals in John’s vision. The Lion of Judah, the Lamb who was slain (a.k.a. Jesus) was the only one worthy to open the seals because of the blood sacrifice He had made and the price He paid through His death and resurrection.

I have found that, in the Kingdom of God, there are things which are unattainable, things which are given, things which are sacrificed, and things which are earned. The key is to learn and know the difference; to understand which things are which.

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Confession and Blessing

Psalm Tats LR

Praise the Lord.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in his commands.
Psalm 112:1 (NIV)

Years ago I read Psalm 112 as a part of my normal reading routine. I can’t explain it, but that day it penetrated deep into my soul. I memorized the psalm and I recite it regularly and prayerfully. I realized that the description of the “blessed man” that the lyricist describes is a description of the man I want to be:

  • God fearing
  • delighting in God’s message
  • successful father
  • gracious
  • compassionate
  • righteous
  • generous
  • confident
  • steadfast
  • fearless
  • secure

This past summer I had a tattoo inked on the bicep of each of my arms. On the left arm the tattoo reads Psalm 51 and the right arm reads Psalm 112. Psalm 51 is a song of confession and through ages the left hand has been associated with folly. Psalm 112 is a song of blessing and through the ages the right hand has been associated with favor. I placed the tats on my biceps because it is a muscle that men traditionally associate with strength.

My tats remind me daily that my strength for life’s journey is not rooted in my effort, social standing, intelligence, gifts, finances, career, or abilities. My strength for the journey is found in:

  1. Humility and daily confession that I am broken, make mistakes, and am in continuous need of God’s grace and forgiveness.
  2. God’s unmerited favor and blessing as I daily seek to be the man God calls me to be.

Confession and blessing. Every day. Every step. Confession and blessing.

Loveable, Valuable, and Capable

From the moment my daughters were born, I wanted to imprint a truth on their soul:

You are so loveable,  that God gave his one, and only, son for you.

You are so valuable,  that you were bought with a price.

You are so capable, that with God nothing is impossible for you.

“You are loveable, valuable, and capable,” I told my girls over and over again. I reminded them over breakfast in the morning. It was the last thing I said to them at night after bedtime prayers. I wrote it on Post-it notes and put it in their sack lunch. I gave them key chains with bead letters: LVC. I wrote it on letters, on postcards,  text messages and emails.

“Hey, Taylor. Hey, Madison. Guess what?!!”

“What?!”

“You’re loveable, valuable, and capable!”

When they were toddlers they giggled.
When they were tweens they smiled.
When they were teens they humored me, but I sensed the rolling of their eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, dad. I know, I know. Loveable, valuable, capable. Whatever.”

They’re grown now. They are adults. I haven’t stopped reminding them. As I mentioned, I wanted the truth imprinted indelibly on their souls.

I never imagined that the truth would end up indelibly imprinted, in my handwriting, on my daughter, Taylor’s, back.

I think I’ll still remind her from time to time. After all, the tattoo is on her back where she can’t see it. I wouldn’t want her to forget what’s written there 🙂